Steven FosterHe wrote the soundtrack for the latter half of the 19th Century. Everyone reading this knows at least a few of his compositions by heart. Before Tin Pan Alley, before the Brill Building, before Bacharach/David and before Holland/Dozier/Holland, there was the Great American Songwriter Steven Foster. Being another Yankee Doodle Dandy born on the 4th of July, his birthday gets lost in the shuffle of celebrations for the nation he helped define, so we mark his untimely death on January 13, 1864 at only age 37 with


California 49ers sang “Old Suzanna” as they panned for gold. “My Old Kentucky Home” is the State Song of Kentucky.

Many of Foster’s songs (“Old Black Joe,” “Swanee River”) resonate of the antebellum American South, yet he was a Northerner, born and educated in Pennsylvania, then spending his adult life in Cincinnati, Ohio and New York City.

The “Camptown Race Track” was near Foster’s school in Athens, Pennsylvania, not in the heart of Dixie. His music was shaped by formal training with a classical instructor, the popular minstrel show music of the age, and a songwriting gift like no other, a man with an ear for a tune and the times.

Stephen Foster was a superb songwriter, but a lousy businessman, and died with 38¢ in his pocket in Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital on the eve of his greatest publishing success, the aptly named “Beautiful Dreamer,” still regularly performed and recorded to this day.

The only other thing in his wallet was a small scrap of paper on which he had written “Dear friends and gentle hearts.”

•Suggested Activities: Dreaming of Jeannie With The Light Brown Hair

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